Colombia all but through after win over Ivory Coast
Goals from James Rodriguez and Juan Quintero see them top Group C in Brazil
José Pékerman continues to preach the importance of remaining calm buy try telling that to a stadium full of Colombia supporters who have just witnessed their country win back-to-back World Cup matches for the first time in their history. This is the 1994 World Cup in reverse for Colombia and, without getting carried away, it is tempting to wonder whether we are looking at a team capable of presenting a serious challenge at these finals.
There were some nervous moments to endure towards the end, after Ivory Coast pulled a goal back through Gervinho, but Colombia held on to secure the three points that all but guarantees their place in the knockout stage. Two goals in the space of six second-half minutes, from the mercurial James Rodríguez and the substitute Juan Quintero, vanquished an Ivory Coast side that will still harbour hopes of reaching the last 16.
There was no doubt about the star of the show. With his lightning pace and box of tricks, Juan Cuadrado is a joy to watch. At times it was hard not feel sympathy for Arthur Boka, the Ivory Coast left-back who had the thankless task of trying to keep up with the Fiorentina winger. It was Cuadrado’s corner that led to Rodríguez opening the scoring – his third assist in this tournament already – and he also struck the woodwork.
This had felt like a home game for Colombia. The Estádio Nacional’s vertiginous stands were painted yellow and their vociferous supporters had been turning up the volume long before the game got underway. They should have been celebrating a 1-0 lead come half-time but Teófilo Gutiérrez was guilty of the miss of the tournament so far.
Cuadrado, predictably, was involved in the build up, sliding a perfectly weighted pass from right to left that released Rodríguez. With two Ivory Coast defenders closing him down, Rodríguez picked the right moment to clip a left-footed centre that implored the unmarked Gutierrez to score. Somehow, though, Gutiérrez failed to hit the target, never mind find the back of the net.
It was as if the striker arrived too early and got his feet in a tangle, culminating in the ball slicing wide off the bottom of his left boot. Rodríguez held his head in his hands and it was impossible not to think how different the outcome might have been if Radamel Falcao was on the pitch.
Gutiérrez had earlier slashed at a left-footed shot from the edge of the area and Didier Zokora, the former Tottenham midfielder, did well to turn a dangerous cross from Cuadrado behind, but Colombia were not having everything their own way in the first half.
Pékerman had expected Ivory Coast to be awkward opponents and that turned out to be the case. Cheick Tioté drilled a 25-yard shot that fizzed over and Serge Aurier, the attacking right-back, who has been strongly linked with Arsenal, forced David Ospina into a low save after stepping inside Mario Yepes, the Colombian captain.
Yepes, who was winning his 100th cap, looked more assured earlier in the second half, when his superbly-timed tackle stopped Max Gradel in his tracks. Just before that Yaya Touré’s wonderful pass with the outside of his boot picked out Wilfried Bony but the Swansea forward’s attempt to acrobatically hook home ended with him failing to make contact with the ball.
At the other end, Cuadrado remained a menace. After turning Boka inside out with a brilliant stepover, Cuadrado hit a vicious shot from an acute angle that cannoned off the crossbar via Boubacar Barry’s fingertips. Cuadrado’s next contribution proved more telling. A corner from the left was met by Rodríguez, who got above Didier Drogba, a replacement for Bony, to head powerfully home.
Six minutes later Colombia had a second. Serey Die was caught in possession inside his own half, Gutierrez released Quintero and the substitute calmly stroked a low shot past the exposed Boubacar. At that point it looked as though the game was up for Ivory Coast but Gervinho gave them late hope. Riding Juan Zuniga’s weak challenge before stepping inside Carlos Sanchez, Gervinho beat Ospina at his near post. Colombia, though, held on.
Colombia: Ospina; Zúñiga, Zapata, Yepes, Armero (Arias); Aguilar (Mejía 78), Sánchez; Cuadrado, Rodríguez, Ibarbo (Quintero 53); Gutiérrez
Subs not used: Carbonero, Vargas, Guarín, Balanta, Ramos, Martínez, Mondragón, Valdés
Ivory Coast: Barry; Aurier, Zokora, Bamba, Boka; Serey (Bolly), C Tioté; Gradel (Kalou 65), Y Touré Gervinho; Bony (Drogba 60)
Subs not used: Diarrassouba, K Touré, Akpa, Ya, Diomandé, Gbohouo, Djakpa, Sio, Mandé
Booked: Zokora, Tioté
Referee: Howard Webb